IRIS Special 2016 - Regional and local broadcasting in Europe

Author: Maja Cappello (Ed.), European Audiovisual Observatory

Published: 17/09/2016

Already when considering the strong differences across the various institutional systems across Europe, the word region” does not have one and only meaning. This is even more true when speaking about media, which do not necessarily reflect administrative structures, but rather give voice to the numerous communities established at any level that is different from the national one. For this reason, when dealing with regional media, we have opted for a large scope and included in our investigation all types of audiovisual media operating at different sub-national levels, both public service and commercial.

This is a sector where national sovereignty is full. Exception made for the conventions promoted by the Council of Europe in the field of national minorities and minority languages and the Recommendations adopted by the Congress of local and regional authorities with the view of promoting regional pluralism and participatory democracy, no approximation exists at international level. At EU level the legislative framework is even less structured, considering that media pluralism as such has always been excluded from the scope of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, and that licensing procedures for broadcasting services and media ownership rules have never been submitted to harmonisation processes.

The result is a widely variegated outlook, where no common model seems possible to find. There are countries with an extraordinarily high number of local media, as Italy and Spain, others where media at sub-national level are a quite recent reality, as in the UK. Also the market structure itself is difficult to analyse, considering the absence of systematic publication and update of information concerning licenced broadcasters. Apart from the financial crisis, which is affecting regional media all-over Europe, often with dramatic results, also the density of the regulatory frameworks varies enormously, and there seems to be no direct connection between relatively rigid legislations, as in France, or more flexible ones, as in Germany, and success stories of the broadcasters.

The purpose of this publication, which has been taken care of by our partner institution IViR of the University of Amsterdam, is to provide an overview of the often disparate information concerning regional audiovisual media in Europe and to serve as a first reference point for those interested in exploring their legal and operational dynamics. The introductory part sets the scene for the scope of the report and presents the most recent regulatory achievements at European level.

The first part of the report opens with a survey of the current national developments, highlighting those countries where governments have been particularly active in implementing reforms in recent years, touching upon funding systems, advertising and information windows, must-carry mechanisms and frequency allocation. The different national experiences have recently been assessed under the Media Pluralism Monitor promoted by the EU. The results show that none of the countries have fulfilled all of the safeguards considered by the tool. In addition, it points out that despite the availability of legislation on regional media in most countries, only a small number of them seems to have implemented it effectively. A snapshot is provided of regional and local television in Europe from a market perspective, with country by country data on public and private broadcasters from the MAVISE database of the European Audiovisual Observatory, including specific information on language channels, regional windows and studios.

The second part of the report explores a selection of national case-studies. The total variety of solutions does not allow for a sensible comparative analysis, so the purpose of this selection is rather to collect the countries that show distinctive or interesting features in their regulatory approaches. The selected countries – Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, France, Spain, Switzerland and United Kingdom – present a canvas of possible solutions to the challenges that regional media are facing in the current times of economic crisis and digital convergence. While findability and visibility of regional media within the wide media offer that exists in all European countries is still one of the major obstacles for regional broadcasters to be known and consequently to be consumed, several examples of good practices can be traced while looking at the various national experiences.

All of the above issues are discussed in this IRIS Special, which collects contributions from different national experts I would like to thank: Elda Brogi, Jean-François Furnémont, Oliver Gerber, Gianna Iacino, Deirdre Kevin, Alina Ostling, Francesca Pellicanò, Benjamin Selier and Sophie Valais. A special recognition goes to Ronan Ó Fathaigh, Tarlach McGonagle and Nico van Eijk, from the IViR of Amsterdam, who are not only authors, but also the minds and the coordinators behind the research. My acknowledgment also goes to Joan Barata, for valuable input during the drafting process.